McCain Gets 38.9M to Tune In for His Acceptance Speech

Rash Report: 1% More Than the 38.4M Who Watched Obama

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- This week's ratings race was all about who would be best carrying the football. Both the pigskin and what's known as "the football," the leather briefcase containing classified nuclear war plans, which is always near the U.S. president. Both versions of football-carrying were carried by NBC last night, as the network kicked off the NFL season with the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants beating Washington. Winning Washington's White House was the focus of what followed: Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
John McCain
John McCain Credit: AP

His address came a night after Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin electrified Republican convention delegates with her own speech accepting the vice presidential nomination. McCain's command performance seemed designed to convince viewers he would be the best commander-in-chief, as he evoked his wartime heroism and his push for the "surge" in Iraq as key credentials.

Signs of enthusiasm
Time -- specifically, the final hours of Nov. 4 -- will tell which ticket was more persuasive. But it appears many are interested, and if viewing turns into voting, poll workers should expect a record turnout.

And if TV ratings are any indication, also expect a very tight race. McCain, for instance, reached a total audience of 38.9 million, about 1% more than the 38.4 million who joined the 80,000-plus in Invesco Field as Obama accepted his party's mantle.

But this close race wasn't reflected in the vice presidential acceptance speeches, as Democrat Joe Biden, while experienced, is not a fresh face -- let alone an instant celebrity -- like Palin. Her meteoric media rise made many viewers into "Palin-teologists," studying how she fared on the convention stage, and how she might fare on the world stage later on. Accordingly, she out-delivered Biden in total viewers by 55%.

But the good news for both parties, as well as the cable news networks, is that interest has surged since 2004. Republican convention ratings were up 52% (not counting Monday, which mostly had coverage of Hurricane Gustav), and the Democratic convention jumped 48%.

(Individual network ratings are not yet available for each night's broadcast, as Nielsen doesn't issue ratings if broadcast or cable networks go commercial-free, which was necessary during the longer-than-expected Palin speech.)

Time out from partisan arguing
As for un-conventional, entertainment programming, it was football of the hard-hitting variety (wait, that's politics, too) taking the top spot in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. Thursday night's game on NBC scored a 5.4/15 rating and share (according to Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, which don't take into account the 7 p.m. ET start time, which was moved up to accommodate the Republican convention). The story was the same on cable, as the top non-political program was college football, with Monday's ESPN prime-time game delivering a 2.4/7.

In terms of scripted series, the big buzz the first week of school were the whispers turned into shouts for the CW, which broke through to the apolitical top 10 with a 2.6/7 for "90210," which was good for a seventh-place tie. The freshman sensation (well, actually a returning student from the 1990s) was joined by sophomore sensation "Gossip Girl" (1.7/5) in a great start for the network's female-focused lineup.

On Fox, "Bones" (3.3/9) was No. 2, joined by fourth-place "House" (2.8/7), sixth-place "Prison Break" (2.7/7) and ninth-place "Kitchen Nightmares" (2.4/7) among the entertainment top 10. Third and fifth place belonged to NBC's "America's Got Talent" (2.9/8 on Tuesday and 2.7/7 on Wednesday). And the network's "Deal or No Deal" (2.6/7) was tied for seventh.

Someone's gotta do it
Rounding out the non-political list, there was a three-way tie for 10th place, with CBS's "Big Brother" and "Two and a Half Men" as well as NBC's "America's Toughest Jobs" all reaching 2.4/6.

Despite the relatively respectable ratings, maybe "America's Toughest Jobs" would have ranked even higher if it profiled the presidency, as either presidential candidate will confront challenges -- including carrying "the football" -- that might make one wonder why both are campaigning so hard to get hired.

Friday: Much has been said at both conventions about helping fellow Americans. But viewers don't have to wait until Nov. 4 -- or rely on politicians -- and can start tonight with the "Stand Up to Cancer" telethon on ABC, CBS and NBC, starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Saturday and Sunday: Football(!) -- this time of the sporting kind -- with ESPN's prime-time College Football matchup between rivals Miami and Florida. And on Sunday, NBC airs a rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.

The NFL is blessed, at least compared to most sports, that the biggest off-field controversy was the on-field desire of Brett Favre, who jets from Green Bay to New York. If he plays well, it could push NFL ratings even higher.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see
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